Delving Into the Mysteries of Human Consciousness

Readers sometimes ask me to define the word “deconstructing” so, I will try to answer in a way that is meaningful within the context of the essays on this site.

For many years I was a structuralist, i.e., I was convinced that at the deepest level of the human psyche there was a structure of universal values and absolute truths which were common to all people in all cultures at all periods of history. I thought that, if I could just discover this bedrock of values, I could then trust them to guide me through my life – and I was desperate for such a guide. And, so I spent many hours pouring through books of mythologies, books on comparative religion, books on psychology and anthropology, and so forth. But what I found as “universal” was not universal, but merely western; and what I thought was truth was at odds with my own experience of reality.

So, instead of finding universal truth, I found a constructed reality – which helped explain the cognitive dissonances and deep conflicts within my own psyche — conflicts between what I felt had value and what I thought had value, between what I thought was real and what I felt was real. I thought deeply about what I felt and why, and realized that much of what I had devoutly believed in — my own deepest emotional “reality” — what my conscience had led me to believe about right and wrong was biased at best. I realized that the adage “Let you conscience be your guide,” was bad advice. Because my conscience seemed to be the internalization of the external cultural value system, a value system, which I was coming to believe, was toxic to my physical and psychological health as a woman.

As a result, I uprooted my conscience and “restructured” my consciousness and found myself living in a new and exciting reality – a reality that was full of surprises because I saw things I had never seen before and reacted to the familiar in strange new ways. To restructure my consciousness – and my conscience — I focused on becoming aware of what I valued and what I did not value, including my female self, and, in the process questioning the origin of these values. At times, this was a very painful experience – for dis-covering the clay feet of the gods one believes in is never an easy process. One is seized with the impulse to cover them back up again as quickly as possible, hope no one else has noticed, and rededicate oneself lickety-split.

This analysis of my own values and how they shaped how and what I saw in the world proved to me that collectively held value systems construct the realities we live in. By this I do not mean that they structure what is “out there” but I do mean that they structure what and how we perceive what is “out there”. And they have everything to do with how we deal with what is “out there” – what sort of societies we create and cities we build, how we deal with poverty and disease, how we relate to peoples of other cultures, how we relate to each other – men to women, parents to children, managers to employees, etc.

We humans in our infinite ignorance are never likely to know ultimate reality or absolute truth. We “make do” based on our limited knowledge of the social and natural world we live in and what “works.” Based on our limited knowledge, we construct perceptions of reality and value systems to go along with them.

That being understood, it is futile to do an archaeological dig of the collective human psyche in search of universals, for the only universal one will find (other than the love of a mother for her child) is that, in order for societies to function and humans to survive, we must construct collective realities. My quest now focuses on the tools that structure human consciousness. I have now become obsessed with de-con-structing not the universal structure, but the culturally constructed structure. I want to decoding what our culture wants to believe is a universal structure, but what is in truth only another construction of reality. That is, I want to understand how cultures structure collective realities and by becoming conscious of the process, free myself of the limitations the current construction places on me.

So, how do cultures construct collective realities, collectively understood value systems, which everyone buys into and few question? If you don’t believe we have a collectively understood value system, take a look at the following list of pairs:

God/Humanity
Man/Nature
Human/Animal
Heaven/Earth
Mind/Body
Spirit/Matter
Light/Dark
Male/Female

I don’t believe that anyone remotely associated with Western culture would have any problem deciding which side has value and which does not – or which side has intrinsic value and which side has utilitarian value. We also intuit that those things on the left side are related to each other, just as those on the right are related: that God lives in Heaven and that He is variously described as Mind, Spirit, Light, and Male. In addition, humanity is made in God’s image (or is it the other way around?). On the other hand, starting at the bottom and going up on the right side, we have woman associated with dark, body, matter earth, and animal – and in a sort of limbo where humanity is concerned. “And we know all this in a moment. We don’t even have to think, we just know. The question is “How do we know?” and secondly, “Is this knowledge reliable?”

The answer to the first question is that culture uses religious symbols to structure human consciousness – so that we automatically value all things associated with the given religious symbol and automatically devalue things, which are not associated with the symbol. Because God is male, spirit, mind, and light and lives in heaven, we value maleness over femaleness, spirit over matter, mind over body, humans over animals, and heaven over earth. The answer to the second question is that this deeply embedded intuitive knowledge is reliable only so long as the constructed /felt value is commensurate with the experienced value. Ask yourself, do these values make sense? When our felt values are out of synch with what we are actually experiencing in our lives, then our symbols can no longer be trusted – and it is time to bring our symbolic systems to consciousness — to look at them in the cold light of day. In the case of our culture, that means deconstructing God.

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